Wearing Engagement and Wedding Rings on Which Finger?

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Which finger should you wear an engagement and wedding ring on? You might be surprised to find out that there are at least 7 different variations to this custom in Britain and around the world.

In this article we first take look at the British ring-wearing tradition. Then we’ll see what the customs are in different countries and religions. Finally, we’ll find out more about the growing trend of men’s engagement rings. By the end, you’ll be able to decide which tradition you prefer for yourself.

1. How do people wear rings in Britain?

Engagement rings. Traditionally in the UK and in Ireland, the man proposes to the woman with an engagement ring. He puts it onto the fourth finger of her left hand, known as ‘the ring finger’.

Promise rings. Some couples buy a promise ring previous to an engagement ring. A promise ring may symbolise the couple’s commitment to each other. Or it can act as a substitute ring until the couple chooses an official engagement ring. Promise rings are worn on the left ring finger in the same way as engagement rings.

Wearing engagement and wedding rings on which finger? - The engagement and wedding rings of Queen Elizabeth II

The rings worn by Queen Elizabeth II

Wedding rings. After marrying, British women usually wear both the engagement ring and the wedding ring. It’s acceptable to wear the wedding ring alone, although this is less common. Either way, both are always worn on the left ring finger.

Which ring goes on first? In the UK women normally wear their engagement ring ‘on top’ of the wedding ring. Meaning the wedding ring is put on first. The reason is an old British superstition which states that a wedding ring must never be taken off. During the wedding ceremony the bride puts her engagement ring temporarily on their right hand. This leaves the left hand free for the wedding ring. When the ceremony is over the bride places her engagement ring ‘on top’ of the new wedding band.

The history of the British ring-wearing tradition. The UK wedding ring tradition is thought to have come from the ancient Romans. They had in turn inherited it from the Egyptians. In Old Egypt, people held a belief that the fourth finger of the left hand was where the vena amoris, or the ‘vein of love’, began.

This vein was supposed to lead all the way to the heart, therefore making the fourth finger of the left hand the optimal place to wear a ring as a symbol of lasting love and commitment.

However, the Egyptians only wore wedding rings and not engagement rings. So while the British wedding ring tradition goes back to Egypt, the engagement ring tradition is actually attributed to Rome. There, it was customary for suitors to give a pre-marriage promise ring to their brides-to-be, in order to seal the commitment to marry them.

Wearing engagement and wedding rings on which finger?
A newly engaged woman wears her ring on the left | Image credit Unsplash.com

2. Which countries share the same tradition as Britain?

Currently among the English speaking countries USA, Ireland, South Africa, Canada, Australia and New Zealand follow the same engagement ring custom as people in the UK.

Elsewhere in the world, Turkey, Jordan, Mexico, Sweden, Finland, Croatia, Slovenia and Romania also share it. The same tradition also continues in Egypt and Italy, the two countries where this custom was originally forged.

 engagement ring and wedding rings on which finger
A couple wearing their rings on the left | Image credit Unsplash.com

3. Elsewhere in the world & different religions

In some countries, it’s customary for the woman to wear the engagement ring on the fourth finger of the right hand. There doesn’t seem to be a clear historical explanation for this (please tell us on Facebook or Twitter if you know why).

The right-handed ring finger is a prevalent custom in many countries, including Russia, India, the Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Lithuania, Greece, Poland, Austria, Hungary and VenezuelaIn these countries the right hand seems to be the established custom regardless of religion. The engagement ring is usually put on first, followed by the wedding ring. This is for practical reasons because of the order the rings were given in. However, this custom can vary according to what feels most comfortable to the bride.

In Germany the fourth fingers of both the right and left hand can be used. As a general rule, the left hand is more prevalent among Protestants, and the right preferred by Catholics.

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German bride wears engagement ring on right | Image credit Jana Relfegerste on Flickr.com

Modern Jewish couples often place the wedding ring on the right hand’s ring finger during the marriage ceremony and then wear it on the left hand’s ring finger post-ceremony. However, according to the old tradition (and also used today in more conservative Jewish ceremonies), the index finger or the thumb are used.

Curiously, although not for any religious reasons, in Brazil the ring is also first placed on the right hand’s ring finger then changed to the left hand during the wedding ceremony.

Engagement rings are worn in several Islamic countries in South Asia and West Asia, and men usually wear them on the right and women on the left hand. Wedding ring are not used in traditional Muslim wedding ceremonies, but if one is worn, it can go either on the left or the right ring finger. In Iran, the wedding band is more common and goes on the right.

Indian culture never traditionally included rings. But now with western influence, diamond engagement rings have become much more common.

Wearing engagement and wedding rings on which finger?
Thai wedding ceremony, bride wears western style engagement ring on left hand | Image credit Blade195 on Flickr.com

4. Men’s engagement rings

According to a 2015 Huffington Post survey, 5% of men in the USA wear engagement rings. This trend is partly a sign of growing gender and sexual equality. The fashion has also spread to other countries, but is prevalent among celebrities and the fashion conscious.

It’s believed that celebrities have generally made it more acceptable for men get to wear jewellery. For example, Scarlett Johansson’s husband Ryan Reynolds and singer Michael Bubble both wear engagement rings. Some women also say the reason they want their fiancé to wear a ring is to show he is ‘off limits’ – they believe the ring tradition should not only apply to women.

Having said all this, it will probably be a while before the average british man is seen wearing a diamond engagement ring. Men’s engagement rings tend to be either plain bands, diamond studded bands, Claddagh rings or signet rings. But not solitaire rings – women still have the monopoly on the single diamond.

Wearing engagement and wedding rings on which finger?
A man wearing his engagement ring and wedding rings on the right ring finger | Image credit Unsplash.com

In conclusion: How should you wear an engagement and wedding ring?

There’s something very exciting about all these different traditions. In an increasingly multicultural society it has become acceptable, and even fashionable, to borrow exotic wedding and engagement customs from other countries. So you don’t need to follow any particular rule. Simply do what feels right for you.


Visit TheDiamondStore.co.uk to view diamond engagement rings and wedding rings.

Read next: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Engagement Ring – This Is What It Could Look Like

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